It's about a lot more than Lott

Posted: Dec 19, 2002 12:00 AM
The ever-escalating Lott imbroglio has very little to do with Senator Lott anymore and everything to do with demonizing Republicans as a class. As for Lott, the immediate question is whether he had racism in his heart when he suggested the country would have been better off had Senator Thurmond been elected president in 1948. Did he commit an unforgivable racial slur or just use sloppy words with no malice intended while caught up in the spirit of honoring Senator Thurmond at his 100th birthday party? If he meant the former, then he should resign his Senate leadership position. Period. But if he truly wasn't lamenting the demise of segregation and just chose poor words, wouldn't his forced resignation be a pretty harsh penalty? People point to a similar statement Lott made in the eighties to prove that he must have intended a racial slur, but I'm skeptical. Regardless of my numerous political disagreements with Lott, he strikes me as a decent person who wouldn't harbor such repugnant views. Plus, racism requires a degree of passion. I see no passion in Lott about anything, except, perhaps, retaining the leadership position. And as I survey his tenure in office I don't see a record of racism. The truth is, none of us knows for sure what is in his heart. But isn't he entitled to the benefit of the doubt? Or does he forfeit that because a) he's a Southerner; b) he's a Republican; c) he's a Southern-Republican; d) the nature of the charge is so severe that his state of mind doesn't matter; e) certain conservatives want to use this opportunity to throw him overboard because he hasn't been conservative enough; f) certain Republicans want to ditch him to prove they are not racists or g) certain Democrats want to exploit the situation to regain ground they lost in the midterm elections? Please don't analogize me to the Clinton defenders who knew Clinton was guilty but defended him purely because they had contempt for his accusers and wanted to keep him in power. In fact, I am not defending Lott per se. I'm just saying I don't know for sure whether he's guilty of the charge, and neither does anyone else, except Lott himself. But this doesn't have much to do with Lott anymore. All you have to do is read the liberal editorials or listen to the words of the spokesmen for the Black Congressional Caucus and the National Organization for Women. They are convicting Lott not for his words, but for his political affiliation and his domicile. They cite the Republicans' "southern strategy" of using "code words" appealing to racism to win southern votes. The New York Times Bob Herbert wrote, "But Mr. Lott is not the only culprit here. The Republican Party has become a haven for white racist attitudes and anti-black policies. The party of Lincoln is now a safe house for bigotry." There are many other editorials in the same vein. To them it doesn't matter if Lott meant his remarks maliciously. He's a Republican. And Republicans are racists because they oppose affirmative action and the proliferation of the welfare state, etc. Case closed. One's individual behavior is irrelevant; it's his policy preferences that matter. (Never mind that in fact conservative policies are much more egalitarian and colorblind than liberal ones). A person can be completely free of racism in his heart and still be a racist pig, according to some, if he advocates, for example, across-the-board tax cuts. Conversely, a complete racist scumbag, if he happens to be a liberal, will likely be given a pass on his racism. Such is the insanity of the age of collective judgments rather than personal responsibility. How ironic! We rightly condemn racism, because, among other things, it devalues the worth of individuals on the basis of a categorical judgment about their group (race). Yet many categorically adjudge Republicans as racists because of their membership in a group. I'm all for dumping Lott if he meant his remarks as racist. I'm even for replacing him at some point because he's not conservative enough. But let's not confuse the two. Those conservatives who think Republicans are going to end this by making Lott a sacrificial lamb have another think coming. By discarding Lott without satisfying themselves of his culpability, Republicans not only will
not be cleansing themselves in the minds of their accusers. They will be abetting the cause of tainting the entire Republican Party by allowing Lott's guilt to be established largely by association (with Republicans). Eventually Republicans are going to have to deal with these incessant, outrageous allegations that they are racists. And getting rid of Lott isn't dealing with them.